Chicago Debate: Will Longer Prison Terms Cut Murders?

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Chicago’s mayor and police superintendent say the way to reduce the city’s gun violence is tougher prison sentences for repeat gun offenders. That idea shifts pressure from patrol officers to the state capital in Springfield, where legislators will consider how to balance law and order with finding alternatives to imprisoning minorities, reports the Associated Press. In the same Senate seat where Barack Obama launched his political career, Democrat Kwame Raoul will propose to impose longer sentences for defendants who previously committed a gun-related crime. Past attempts to strengthen such penalties have been turned down. Opponents worry it would further incarceration rates in the predominantly black neighborhoods hardest hit by violence and doesn’t address the root cause of readily available illegal guns. The opponents have called for more comprehensive solutions that go beyond law enforcement.

Raoul will propose directing judges to use the higher end of the sentencing scale on defendants with prior gun-related convictions. Judges would keep discretion in sentencing; Raoul’s bill may require them to explain their rationale. Such an effort could turn into a “war on guns” that would resemble the war on drugs of the 1970s and 1980s, says Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli.  It didn’t lead to a drop in drug usage, but to the “demonization” of young African-American and Latino men, she said. The issue of repeat offenders was raised in August when Nykea Aldridge, cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade, was gunned down while pushing her baby in a stroller. She wasn’t the intended target. Brothers who were charged, had served a total of 11 years in prison on a combined 26-year sentence for five felony convictions. There’s not enough evidence to show how effective stricter sentencing guidelines can be, said Roseanna Ander of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. She suggests it may be more worthwhile to ensure sentence lengths are applied consistently, rather than different outcomes depending on the judge.

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